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Did you know that some blogs receive over one million visitors each month?
Have you ever wondered how they do it?
This kind of traffic isn’t easy to attain, but the pay-off for a high traffic blog with hundreds of thousands of page views each month (or more) are considerable. With that kind of traffic it’s hard not to make good money!
Most blogs with huge amounts of traffic are in fact run by a dedicated staff of writers who can churn out content much faster than a single blogger could ever hope to manage. Part of the reason these blogs are so highly trafficked is because a repeat visitor knows there’s likely to be something new every few hours or so. They have reason to visit multiple times during the day. Examples of blogs like this are the Gawker Media blogs, such as Lifehacker and Kotaku.
Most of us don’t have the money or the desire to take on a large contingent of writers to keep our blogs updated every few hours. The good news is that huge traffic is still possible at a single-author blog. Look to StevePavlina.com, Zen Habits, Entrepreneur’s Journey, even ProBlogger itself (I pick these examples because you’re likely to be familiar with them, but there are so many others). These are just a few examples where a single-author blog is receiving hundreds of thousands of page views each month, and in some cases, over a million.
Can we do the same?
These are the kind of stats we dream of for our own blogs, but most of us doubt that this would be possible for us. This is probably because the steps involved in getting there seem very blurry. You’re producing great content, growing in size slowly but surely, gathering new loyal readers and increasing your traffic, but you’re still miles away from the kind of huge audience those blogs experience. What are the factors that separate the average blog from these super high traffic blogs?
This is the point where you expect a cop-out — for me to say that it is, of course, great content that separates those blogs from the average. Unfortunately, your expectations won’t be met here. I’m not interested in content right now. At least, not directly. In fact, your content may be just as good, or better, than any one of the blogs I’ve mentioned, or any other successful single-author blogs you can think of.
What I am interested in, and I hope you will be too, is to know where that traffic is coming from.
On a multi-author blog producing reams of content it’s likely to receive many of its ‘visits’ from single visitors who make multiple return visits each day, in addition to high search traffic due to the vast amount of content archived at the blog, and social media traffic, because multi-author blogs generally have the resources to break important stories. When we look at single-author blogs, however, traffic sources are going to be coming from very different places.
Instead of producing dozens of posts each day a blog run by one person is probably going to be producing, at most, a handful of posts per day. The average level will probably be one post per day. For this reason, single-author blogs probably can’t expect visitors to return five or ten times a day to check for new updates. So, we knock out that traffic source.
I want to suggest that very highly trafficked single-author blogs are knocking the ball out of the park in at least two of the following three core areas:
- Social media
The last one is a must. Waves of social media traffic come and go and search engine traffic can disappear with the next Google algorithm update. If readers evangelize your content, as they do for Steve Pavlina, Leo Babauta, Yaro Starak, and you have probably done for Darren Rowse (by recommending him to a friend, or linking to one of his articles with a glowing recommandation) you will find it difficult to receive anything but huge traffic.
Performing exceptionally with at least one of the others is also very important, and it’s particularly useful if you can master both.
Most single-author blogs with huge traffic are getting a lot of that from search (sometimes as high as 20%). Some blogs, however, will never receive exceptional search traffic, no matter how popular they get or how much SEO work is done on them. After all, most people use search to solve a problem. They want to know how to do such and such thing, and the problem is that they don’t. So they search. However, some blogs are not so much about providing answers as they are about asking questions. Others might provide answers to questions you didn’t know you had. If you’re seeking to be entertained, they might entertain you in a way you never would have searched for on your own.
One of the best blog posts I’ve read in recent memory was Errol Morris’s dissection of two pieces of war-time photography in an effort to decide whether one of the pictures was faked. It was called ‘Which Came First, the Chicken or the Egg?’ and generated over 900 comments. Were people searching for this content before they found it? Very unlikely. Even putting the photographer’s name in the headline probably wouldn’t have improved the SEO situation very much, but it still didn’t hurt the story any. In fact, it went on to become a viral sensation.
Photo by victoriapeckham.
I relate the above example to show that some topics suit high levels of search traffic much better than others. If you feel you’re in the latter camp it’s still very possible to receive high levels of traffic, but you’ll find it much easier to so with the help of social media. If you’re not setting StumbleUpon on fire with your posts you should aim to get some love from Digg or Reddit. If you don’t know how to do that, hire someone who does and get them to write for you once a week. There are plenty of talented writers out there, looking for work, who really ‘get’ social media. Look for for an excellent front-page story on Digg that relates to your blog topic and then find out who wrote it. If you’re lucky, that person may be looking for more work.
Once you’ve produced a great post, get a top user to submit the content before anyone else. You’d be surprised at how easy this is if they think the content is good. Once it’s done, let their network take over. With a talented writer and a bit of audacity it’s surprisingly easy to go popular on social media pretty much, well, whenever you want to. But that’s material for another post, another time.
Let’s examine three blogs that I’ve mentioned above. First, this one, ProBlogger. I’m pretty certain most of Darren’s traffic comes from direct links (evangelism), search (a high percent, due to practical topics and clever SEO), and StumbleUpon (a whole lot of it). While most of us are receiving traffic from these sources, high-traffic blogs take this to another level. The importance of evangelism from the reader base is the driving force behind all these things. ProBlogger wouldn’t rank as high in search if thousands of people hadn’t linked to it using juicy keywords. It wouldn’t receive loads of StumbleUpon traffic if its readers weren’t motivated to vote for it.
Next, let’s think about where Zen Habits is getting its traffic from. I’m not sure about the level of search traffic it gets, but I know it receives an exceptional amount of social media traffic from StumbleUpon and Digg. I also know the reader base is highly evangelical and links to Leo’s articles regularly. The blog is also spread through word of mouth networks. Once again, the success on social media probably wouldn’t have progressed as far as it has without an evangelical reader base. That factor is essential for the other factors to exist.
By now you will have noticed I’ve been throwing the word ‘evagelical’ around a whole lot without really explaining what I mean by it. The word comes from religious evangelicals, so it’s best to start there. While the word has been appropriated to describe a particular group of religious people, it has also been absorbed into the language of marketing.
To evangelize something really just means that you are passionate about it and try to get others to be passionate about it too (in a religious context, this would be a particular understanding of God). In fact, I want to suggest that you’ve done some evangelizing whether you are religious or not. If you’ve forced a tattered copy of your favorite book into the hands of a friend, you’re evangelizing it. If you told someone their next laptop should be a MacBook Pro because you love yours, you’re evangelizing the product. When you tell an aspiring blogger that they really should be reading ProBlogger, you evangelize this blog. When you link to it, vote for it or recommend it via word of mouth, you are evangelizing it, and the same goes for any blog you enjoy and try to share with others.
The key difference between the average blog and a high traffic blog is that the high traffic blog has an evangelical following: people who think, “My God, more people have to see this!”
Someone who only skims your posts will register on your stat counter but they are not going to spread the ‘gospel’ of your blog to others, so to speak. An evangelical reader might stumble every post they read and link to you every week. They do the kind of things that allow you to rank highly in search, and to get torrents of traffic from social media. In other words, to build a high traffic blog you need to create a highly evangelical audience.
What makes someone passionate and evangelical about a blog?
It’s not fluff. It’s not controversy for its own sake. It’s not self-indulgence. It’s not stale formulas. It’s knowing deeply the kind of individuals your audience is made up of, what their needs and wants and dreams are, how you fit into that, and how much you can make their lives better, whether it’s by making them smile, laugh, cry, go ‘Ah-ha!’, feel empowered, feel informed, entertained or more skillful.
The amount of improvement you make in the lives of your readers will be in proportion to the amount of effort they put into evangelizing your blog and helping it become more popular than you may ever have imagined.